Words for the Week in Golf

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Sunday, July 22, 3:49 p.m. ET
 
To Borrow a Quote ...
 
Can you imagine what they must have felt?
 
Thousands of miles away, MY heart pounded. I could hear the beating like the old man in The Tell-Tale Heart.
 
TRUE! ' nervous ' very, very dreadfully nervous I had been, to quote Edgar Allan Poe.
 
Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia had to endure his most difficult defeat. (Getty Images)
Many thoughts ran through my head Sunday as the 136th Open Championship played out, many words before written and spoken by other men.
 
What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports in going on here? ' Slim Pickens as Taggert
 
Not quite classical literature, but a wonderfully appropriate line from Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles.
 
When Sergio Garcia began to make bogeys around the turn at Carnoustie to open up this Open, this first came to mind.
 
I truly believed Garcia was going to win after the way he performed each of the first three days. I was wrong. His putter didnt fail him. His nerves did.
 
Insanity laughs, under pressure we're cracking ' David Bowie, Under Pressure'
 
The lyrics swam in my head, closed off by each ear so they could not escape.
 
Pressure got to everyone Sunday. It took over Steve Stricker early and Anders Romero late. Sergio fought a mighty battle with it all day, and so, too, did Harrington once he found himself in contention.
 
Based on the way this Open reached its conclusion, and on the heels of what happened in 1999, every Championship should be contested at Carnoustie. I'm sure the European contingent would not contest.
 
You wont have Nixon to kick around anymore, ' Richard Nixon
 
When Padraig Harrington hit two into the Barry Burn on 18 to go from one up to one down, I thought of the disgraced former president. Not in relation to the Irishman, but in regards to Garcia. I could envision him in a press conference with the claret jug in one hand, shaking a defiant fist at the media with the other, invoking the words of No. 37.
 
If Sergio believes in fate, though, he believes it is forever against him.
 
A lengthy wait on the tee at 18 in regulation, and another one in the fairway. Putts missing by fractions all day. A carom off a flagstick in the playoff, instead of a drop in the hole.
 
They all conspired to defeat him.
 
Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result, ' Winston Churchill
 
This must have been how Harrington felt when Garcia bogeyed the last to force the four-hole, cumulative playoff. Harrington had not so much been shot at as had the gun backfire in his face. But he was still alive, still with a chance to live forever with the likes of Woods and Nicklaus, instead of Van de Velde and Sanders.
 
A second life. A different result. Harrington bogeyed 18 this time, and this time it was good enough for a one-shot victory and a place in history, not infamy.
 
Victory belongs to the most persevering, ' Napoleon Bonaparte
 
And so Sergio must persevere. His time will come, they say. But why didnt it come today, on this Sunday?
 
That is a question he will ponder and be unable to answer.
 
For Harrington there is great satisfaction in this great achievement. For Sergio there is bitter disappointment in this bitter defeat. And, for Sergio, there is Kafka.
 
Lifes splendor forever lies in wait.
 
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More Mercer Blogs from Open Week:
  • Saturday - Sergio's Major to Win
  • Friday - Open Still Wide Open
  • Thursday - Now is the Time for Sergio
  • Wednesday - Player: Just Say No (Names)
  • Tuesday - Van de Velde in Pain, but Also at Ease
  • Monday - Remembering Seve When
     
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    Saturday, July 21, 2:27 p.m. ET
     
    Sergio's Major to Win
     
    I cant believe Im writing this, but I just cant see Sergio Garcia losing this Open Championship.
     
    I know, I know: were talking about Sergio, a guy whos had about a much success in the final round of major championships as John Daly did with Trim Spa.
     
    But after watching the third round at Carnoustie, and taking into consideration a few other fateful factors, I honestly think Sergio will be drinking Michelob from the claret jug Sunday night.
     
    Garcia played wonderfully well Saturday. He didnt make a bogey, looked very steady with the putter, and kept his emotions in check. He got a few good bounces ' one off a cameramans head ' and generally had everything go his way.
     
    Others, too, seemed set on lessening the pressure Garcia will face in the final round.
     
    Certainly, he will have to endure quite an inner battle, but he has only one opponent within five strokes of his lead.
     
    Players were sliding down the leaderboard late Saturday like cold-cuts on a wall.
     
    The only one to keep his game and his nerves intact was American Steve Stricker, who fashioned an Open Championship course record of 7-under 64.
     
    Afterwards, in a sit-down interview with ABC Sports, Stricker teared-up when talking about his round and his return to form following a lengthy and public struggle. The magnitude of the moment seemed to overtake him, to which he had to remind himself that this was only the third round.
     
    This is part of my problem, he said. I need to get a little tougher on the inside.
     
    Americans have won each of the last four Open Championships and 10 of the last 12. A European hasnt finished first in any major since 1999.
     
    But thats part of the fate factor. The Open is back at Carnoustie, where Paul Lawrie most recently flew the European flag. Its also the site of Seve Ballesteros retirement.
     
    Every time Jack Nicklaus retired from a major, Tiger Woods prevailed. It would only be fitting if there would be a Seve-Sergio handoff this week. Maybe Garcia should call Ben Crenshaw and ask him if he still believes in fate.
     
    Obviously nothing is set in stone. After what happened in 99, it would seem anything is a possibility at Carnoustie. A Johnny Miller-like 63 could win it for someone. Or a Greg Norman-like 78 could lose it for someone else. And who knows what Mother Nature has in store on Day 4.
     
    And, again, we are talking about Sergio Garcia. The same guy who was one back of Woods through 54 holes a year ago at Royal Liverpool, shot 4-over 39 on the front side Sunday ' a day after shooting 29 over the same stretch ' and finished seven in arrears.
     
    This, however, does not appear to be the same Sergio Garcia.
     
    After holding the outright lead for each of the first three days, this one appears able to handle the situation. This one appears confident. Not bravado, but honest confidence. This one appears to be a much better putter. And this one appears ready to finally win his first major championship.
     
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    More Mercer Blogs from Open Week:
  • Friday - Open Still Wide Open
  • Thursday - Now is the Time for Sergio
  • Wednesday - Player: Just Say No (Names)
  • Tuesday - Van de Velde in Pain, but Also at Ease
  • Monday - Remembering Seve When
     
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    Friday, July 20, 4:47 p.m. ET
     
    Open Still Wide Open
     
    The Americans are going to have to scramble like Benny Hill at a beauty pageant if they are going to keep their run alive in the Open Championship.
     
    Each of the last four ' and 10 of the last 12 ' Opens have been claimed by a Yank. That streak is in danger of coming to an end as only four are among the top 19 players after two rounds at Carnoustie.
     
    That doesnt sound too bad, but its not the quantity that is cause for concern.
     
    Jim Furyk, Boo Weekley, J.J. Henry and Stewart Cink comprise that quartet. All are accomplished players, all PGA TOUR winners. But none, aside from Furyk, are likely to throw a scare into the rest of those still alive to claim the claret jug.
     
    And while Furyk is a consistent challenger in major championships, and even a U.S. Open champion, he has a penchant for coming up just a little short more often than not.
     
    Scroll down the leaderboard, past those at even par and into the black, and youll find two-time defending champion Tiger Woods, seven back of leader Sergio Garcia.
     
    But keep on looking if you want to find Phil Mickelson. Just dont bother looking at Saturdays tee sheet.
     
    Mickelson endured yet another Open disappointment, missing the cut by two strokes.
     
    Add this to his MC at Oakmont and it marks the first time in his career that he has missed the cut in consecutive major championships.
     
    That the final nail in his coffin was a double-bogey on the final hole should come as no surprise. Lefty has been worse than left-over haggis in finishing off rounds lately.
     
    It wasnt always that way. Prior to playing the 18th hole Sunday at the Nissan Open, he was a collective 8 under par for the year on his last hole of the round, including a trio of eagles.
     
    And then he bogeyed 18 at Riviera, thus forcing a playoff with Charles Howell III, who ultimately beat him in sudden death.
     
    Beginning with that mishap, Mickelson has played his final hole each day a combined 18 over par. That includes no eagles, only four birdies and FIVE double bogeys.
     
    This is not a coincidence. This is a trend.
     
    While thats one trend Mickelson would desperately like to alter, a few of his countrymen hope to keep another one intact.
     
    This crop of American contenders might not be an intimidating lot. But, then again, does anyone else on the 36-hole leaderboard look scary?
     
    There are a bunch of talented, notable players at even par or better. But also a bunch of unproven major performers. Only five of them have a major title to their credit, and only one, Ernie Els, has won this particular event.
     
    Just one bad hole by Garcia and this Open becomes wide open.
     
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    More Mercer Blogs from Open Week:
  • Thursday - Now is the Time for Sergio
  • Wednesday - Player: Just Say No (Names)
  • Tuesday - Van de Velde in Pain, but Also at Ease
  • Monday - Remembering Seve When
     
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    Thursday, July 19, 4:17 p.m. ET
     
    Now is the Time for Sergio
     
    I think the British Open is done, so I don't want to hear any more questions about The Open!
     
    Slap!
     
    Sergio Garcia was none-too-pleased following his opening round of the 1999 PGA Championship, when I brought up his performance at the Open Championship just a month prior.
     
    I simply asked him how he had managed such an impressive transformation, going from 89 in the first round at Carnoustie to 66 at Medinah.
     
    Garcia, 19 at the time, gave me a quick and terse response and then slapped the podium from which he was behind with the authority of an angered judge.
     
    He didnt cry, like he did after shooting 89-83 in his first major championship as a professional, but he appeared on the verge of doing so.
     
    While I wasnt on hand to ask him any questions this Thursday, I can only assume that he handled anything relating to his Carnoustie catastrophe like a big boy.
     
    Garcia is 27 now and still without a major championship to his credit. But hes off to a great start in ending that 0fer after shooting 6-under 65 to take a two-shot lead over Paul McGinley.
     
    Day 1 of the 136th Open Championship was dreary and gray. Players donned rain suits and sweaters. McGinley wore mittens large enough to crawl inside. Even the locals sported long sleeves.
     
    It was, much as Garcia would consider his first round in comparison to that of eight years ago, a perfect scene.
     
    Few things in golf are better than waking up early, turning on the TV and seeing the British Open look like a British Open.
     
    And that includes the leaderboard. You know its an Open Championship when the top-10 includes a couple of Spaniards, a couple of Irishmen, a Northern Irish teen, an Argentine, an Austrian, a Kiwi, a South Korean, a Scot, and sprinkle of Americans.
     
    You also know its only Day 1, because a European is on top.
     
    Garcia will be looking to not only add life to a barren major championship resume, but also end a continental drought that dates back to this very event at this very site in 1999.
     
    Doing so will be difficult. Perhaps not as difficult as keeping yourself from repeatedly slamming your head in a desk drawer while listening to Bobby Clampett, but close.
     
    Garcia is the leader, and winning from the front ' unless youre Tiger Woods ' is a far more daunting task than unleashing a surprise attack on Sunday.
     
    This has to be more than just another stepping stone for Sergio, more than just another lesson learned. People in and around the game, Garcia included, say its just a matter of time before he finally wins a major.
     
    Now is the time to make it happen.
     
    Or else he's going to have more upsetting questions to answer at this year's PGA.
     
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    More Mercer Blogs from Open Week:
  • Wednesday - Player: Just Say No (Names)
  • Tuesday - Van de Velde in Pain, but Also at Ease
  • Monday - Remembering Seve When
     
    Recent Blogs
     
    Wednesday, July 18, 2:57 p.m. ET
     
    Just Say No (Names)
     
    Let the guessing games begin.
     
    Gary Player said Wednesday that he knows of at least one golfer who has used steroids; that this golfer told him personally of his offense.
     
    Player, of course, wouldnt reveal the offenders name and added that he is quite confident, based on another secret source, that there are others in the game who use some form of performance-enhancing drugs.
     
    Player noted that you could see massive changes in the golfer who confidentially confessed to him, which leaves us to wonder: Who could it be?
     
    Even if there are a few players who come to mind, to even make mention of them would be nothing more than sensational speculation, because there is no proof.
     
    I agree with my colleague, Brian Hewitt, who took Player to task in his most recent column for bringing up the situation and not naming names. By not shining a spotlight on that individual, he casts a shadow of doubt on everyone.
     
    If he wasnt going to be 100-percent revealing, then he should have kept his little secret 100 percent to himself.
     
    We dont need innuendo. We need proof. There is only one way to get proof, and it doesnt come from Gary Player half-heartedly tattling on someone.
     
    While I think Player's approach was inappropriate Wednesday, I do side with him on this front: professional golf absolutely needs a drug-testing system. Because there are so many different tours, it would be very difficult to organize some kind of universal policy, outside of adopting the World Anti-Drug Agencys (WADA) list of banned substances. But if one tour finds a way to be effective with their testing, then others might fall in line.
     
    It appears that the PGA and European tours are moving in that direction. The LPGA, on the other hand, has already stated that they will implement such a system in 2008.
     
    Tiger Woods, who I think is as likely to use performance-enhancing drugs as Michael Vick is to be named PETAs Man of the Year, has said repeatedly that he wants to see drug-testing in golf; even if he doesnt believe that it will reveal anything. Believing that everyone in professional golf is clean ' at least of things like steroids and human growth hormones (HGH) ' is a popular notion among players and officials.
     
    But I find it ridiculous to think that not a single player on the PGA, European, LPGA, Nationwide or Challenge tours are using some sort of drug that would be considered illegal in another sport ' or by the government ' to help them become better athletes.
     
    Steroids and HGH increase muscle mass and recovery time from injury. Both of those would seem to be beneficial to a golfer. Even if a player doesnt want to look like Jose Canseco, a little extra strength can be a big boost.
     
    And stimulants, such as amphetamines, used in low doses can help increase attention.
     
    Maybe these things help a golfer, maybe they dont. Right now, its really all argumentative, because we havent heard from anyone who said, I took X and it helped/hurt me Y.
     
    But if someone is having problems getting to that next level, whatever that level may be, they might be inclined to test the possible risks for a mighty reward.
     
    Golf can make men and women millionaires. It can make them celebrities. That is a very, very powerful lure. You might think of the game as noble and honorable. Others might see it as a way to simply get rich and famous.
     
    Like Joe Ogilvie, a member of the PGA TOUR policy board, told the New York Times last August, We market the guys who hit it 300 yards. If thats your message, and people see that beginning at the high school level, I think as a tour it is very nave to think that somebody down the line wont cheat.
     
    As (golf) gets more popular and the zeroes continue to grow to the left of the decimal point, I dont think there is any doubt that there will be cheaters.
     
    If there arent already. It might be a very small percentage, but I think that percentage is above zero.
     
    Until we know for sure, however, all we can do is speculate who is on drugs. And have people like Gary Player stir the uh pot.
     
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    More Mercer Blogs from Open Week:
  • Tuesday - Van de Velde in Pain, but Also at Ease
  • Monday - Remembering Seve When
     
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    Tuesday, July 17, 2:28 p.m. ET
     
    Van de Velde in Pain, but Also at Ease
     
    Jean Van de Velde is sick to his stomach. And it has nothing to do with Carnoustie being the venue for this years Open Championship.
     
    Van de Velde is not at the site of his most egregious gaffe. For one, he did not qualify to be there. For another, hes home, undergoing tests to determine what is causing him so much physical pain.
     
    He thinks that it might be glandular fever, which would explain his lethargy. But hes not sure, and neither are the doctors who continue to poke and prod, x-ray and examine, and genuinely add to his discomfort.
     
    But Jean Van de Velde has a sense of humor. A very good one. Its a part of his positive outlook, one that allows him to this very day say, What do I have to complain about?
     
    Maybe his current condition, which could be cancer for all anyone knows right now; maybe his myriad of knee problems; maybe a nasty divorce; maybe the fact that hes won one European Tour event over the last 14 years; maybe because hes 41 and the sands of time are quickly running low on the side of his career.
     
    Or maybe because the mere mention of his name produces instantaneous thought of abject failure.
     
    But, no, Van de Velde will not complain. He will not ask for pity or sympathy. He will not shy away in the shadows. He will simply press forward, and do so with a laugh.
     
    I think it's going to last at least a good 15 to 20 years before people stop asking me questions, Van de Velde said in an Open Championship conference call Monday. There's probably another 12 to go.
     
    Probably many more than that. No definitely many more than that.
     
    The memory of what Van de Velde did that Sunday evening, July 18, 1999, will live forever. And the questions will always remain, no matter how many times theyve before been answered.
     
    For Van de Velde is the man who had one hand on golfs most prized possession and then slapped it away with the other. Hes the man who only needed double bogey to become Champion Golfer of the Year, and made triple. Hes the man who made the biggest mess in the history of his sport, on the grandest stage, and with the spectacle of a circus performer ' or, in the Frenchmans case, Cirque de Soleil.
     
    Unfortunately for Van de Velde, the rest of the world has not yet come to terms with what transpired as has he.
     
    The 1999 Open Championship is strapped around his neck like an unforgiving yoke.
     
    And yet he doesnt let it weigh him down. Golf, he says, It's not all my life. It's not what makes Jean Van de Velde. It's part of me, but not me.
     
    Come Thursday, after another round of tests with the doctors, Van de Velde will go home. He wont wallow in misery or lament the past. Instead, hell hope to find a bit of physical comfort and, for the first time in a very long time, watch some golf on TV.
     
    I don't look at golf on TV. But this one I'm going to definitely look at, he said. I'm very sad I'm not there. I'm very sad I'm not competing, but I want to look at it and put it behind.
     
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    More Mercer Blogs from Open Week:
  • Monday - Remembering Seve When
     
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    Monday, July 16, 11:58 a.m. ET
     
    Remembering Seve When
     
    The image is on his heart, embroidered into the left pocket of his shirt. He wears it on his hat. It is noticeable on the hip of his pants. He even has it carved into his skin.
     
    Seve Ballesteros
    This is how Seve wants to be remembered, as he won the '84 Open Championship. (Getty Images)
    This is the way Severiano Ballesteros likes to remember himself. This is the way he would like to be forever remembered by all: a champion; a hero; a fist-pumping matador capable of slaying every big and bad bull.
     
    Ballesteros officially retired from competitive golf in a hastily called press conference Monday at Carnoustie. And given his performance over the last dozen years, it would seem unlikely that this was just a grab for attention.
     
    That the 50-year-old Ballesteros called it quits on the grounds of the Open Championship is only appropriate. Carnoustie was the site of his Open debut in 1975. The championship was his gateway to worldwide fame.
     
    The image Ballesteros so cherishes is the reactionary one of him winning the 1984 Open at St. Andrews. The one of him smiling maniacally on the 18th hole, looking like a crazed and impassioned Jack Nicholson in The Shining, repeatedly jabbing the Scottish air with his victorious right fist.
     
    The one-dimensional shadowy image Ballesteros, now a senior man, uses as his official logo does not do that moment justice. There is no facial expression. There is no pumping of the fist. There is no bounce in his feet.
     
    But Severiano Ballesteros was never a man who could be defined in such simplistic fashion. He was an artisan, prone to escape golfs most confounding traps. A man with the ability to make birdie from a parking lot. But a man who couldnt keep his tee shots from hitting parked cars.
     
    He was young and brash, spirited and innately gifted. He was a golfing Superman, the Man of Feel. He became rapidly old and bitter, curmudgeonly and depressingly confused. He lost his touch and his game came crashing from the skies.
     
    He was a revered winner and a reviled gamesman. A man of infinite talent and finite patience. He was loose with his lips and tight with a dollar. He was admired by most who watched him and loathed by most who worked for him.
     
    In all, he won five major championships: three claret jugs and two green jackets. He won 50 official European Tour titles, four regular PGA TOUR events, and more than 30 other tournaments around the world. He was a Ryder Cup legend, a victorious captain, and a Hall of Fame inductee in 1999.
     
    He was also beset by crippling injuries to his body and his confidence. He last made a cut in a major in 1996, last won an event in 95. He finished dead last at this years Masters. And in his one and only Champions Tour event, he tied for last with Lee Trevino, the man who once said, 'Every generation or so there emerges a golfer who is a little bit better than anybody else. I believe Ballesteros is one of them. On a golf course he's got everything. I mean everything: touch, power, know-how, courage and charisma.'
     
    The name Severiano Ballesteros encompasses all of the aforementioned. People will forever remember him for so many reasons. And if one moment in time stands out more than all of the others, then its OK. There is no right and wrong, for it all is Seve.
     
    But if he could if he could shape your opinion of him, he would ask that you look at the bluish-green image tattooed forever into his left forearm.
     
    That is how Severiano Ballesteros would like to be remembered. For who he was, not who he became.
     
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